It’s nice to know who your friends are.
Such a simple phrase and yet so pertinent for we publicans who, in a packed bar, will know dozens of names and even more faces. We’ll kiss cheeks, share goodwill and mock derision, and laugh at the most glib of jokes.
We’re a mate to all yet friends with few. We enjoy the love from the bulk of the chattering throng, but, as is the case the world over, there’s a modicum of mire that must be tolerated by the landlord on his rounds.
We’ll hug the homophobe, high-five the racist and shake the hand of the wife-beater – we can’t discriminate or take the moral high ground however much we may despise what someone is. We judge people – for the most part – purely on their behaviour in our pub. This may sound mercenary and uncaring, but are we different from a cinema or a supermarket? Do they refuse to serve drug dealers and drink drivers or do they take the money and leave law enforcement to the law enforcers?
So we smile the smile of someone wrestling with their conscience and serve the ne’er-do-wells reluctantly, all the time hoping that they find another local soon and a decent soul takes their place at the bar. We offer them no reciprocal friendship however hard they strive to get in with the gaffer. We choose our friends carefully – holding down friendships with customers is not as easy as it seems.
To the casual observer a pub landlord has a hundred friends, yet the landlord knows he has few, so tenuous is that relationship of customer and publican. Yet who else can a landlord make friends with if we spend so much time at work?
Many a study has proven that running a pub is up there with one of the most misery inducing professions there are. I disagree, but the one thing that I truly believe makes the life of the publican a lonelier one than most would believe is the difficulties inherent in forming and maintaining meaningful friendships.
You’re only ever one argument from a friend boycotting your pub. This in itself highlights the main obstacle… money – your mates are effectively paying your wages and although this obvious truth remains largely unsaid it is known and accepted by both parties, yet there is no way around it. Should we give away free beer to our closest chums? No, of course not! This would be a disaster not only by way of alienating your other customers, but also in regards to the friendship itself – the balance of power is pitched for pitchers and you would then be buying their company.
There is no real answer to this conundrum and one must face the fact that in that sea of smiles and fist-pumps, hidden within the forest of sycophants and sleeve-whisperers there will be but a small band of true friends that will endure beyond your tenure and stay in touch when neither has anything to gain from the relationship. If there are more than you can count on one hand then you are lucky indeed, but then again, who isn’t lucky to have that many true friends?